And Now, Reading About K2

A few days ago, self began reading Three Cups of Tea:  One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations . . .  One School at a Time.  She’d read the review in The Economist, years ago.

She was confused as The Economist had described the book as a memoir by a mountain climber named Greg Mortenson, but the book turns out to be told in third person, by a journalist named David Oliver Relin.

Thankfully, Relin turns out to be a very good writer.

In the book’s first 20 pages, self learns that Greg Mortenson nearly died during an attempt to reach K2.  He and another man had become separated from the rest of their group.  In a case of rare good luck, Mortenson encountered two men who had worked as porters for a Mexican mountain climbing team.  The porters had completed their work and were now on their way home, unladen.  They agreed to carry Mortenson’s stuff back to base camp, for a fee of $4 a day.  One of these porters, Mouzafer, would later become instrumental in helping to save Mortenson’s life.

Mouzafer, the reader learns, “was a Balti, the mountain people who populated the least hospitable high-altitude valleys in northern Pakistan.  The Balti had originally migrated south from Tibet, via Ladakh, more than six hundred years ago, and their Buddhism had been scoured away as they traveled over the rocky passes and replaced by a religion more attuned to the severity of their new landscape —  Shiite Islam.  But they retained their language, an antique form of Tibetan.  With their diminutive size, toughness, and supreme ability to thrive at altitudes where few humans choose even to visit, they have physically reminded many mountaineers climbing in Baltistan of their distant cousins to the east, the Sherpa of Nepal.  But other qualities of the Balti, a taciturn suspicion of outsiders, along with their unyielding faith, have prevented Westerners from celebrating them in the same fashion as they fetishize the Buddhist Sherpa.”

*     *     *     *

Another climber, Fosco Maraini, who was part of a “1958 Italian expedition that managed the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV, a rugged neighbor of K2” wrote this about the Balti:

“They connive, and complain and frustrate one to the utmost.  And beyond their often-foul odor, they have an unmistakable air of the brigand.  But if you are able to overlook their roughness, you’ll learn they serve you faithfully, and they are high-spirited.  Physically they are strong . . .  You can see thin little men with legs like storks’, shouldering forty kilos day after day, along tracks that would make the stranger think twice before he ventured on them carrying nothing at all.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Iain Kelly

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